Les Powles is probably best known as the man who, through a error in navigation, ended up in Brazil rather than the Caribbean he was originally heading for. And this is a shame as he is, in fact, a first rate yachtsman who, in more than twenty years of sailing, circumnavigated the world three times, once nonstop. What makes this even more remarkable is that he did not start until he was in his fifties, built his own boat and essentially learned sailing as he went along.
He is the man who has actually done what, I am sure, many of us have dreamed of at one stage or another. There is a reason why he has done it and most of us have not and Powles knows why:
By now I had reached the stage where people began to say, ‘It must be great to own your own yacht and sail around the world. I’d love to do the same but….’
‘But’ is always the crunch. Invariably it would be followed by ‘I’m still paying the mortgage’ or ‘ the wife’s not keen’ or ‘the cats have had kittens’. If people were honest with themselves, they would admit they led a contented life and had no reason to change it.
Which is why you and I will never undertake the journeys Powles did, and if you were honest with yourself after reading this book you will be glad that you didn’t.
When Powles started out on his first circumnavigation he had little experience and little money. He quickly gained experience but money was always a problem and it was this lack of money that did cause him a number of difficulties. Food was always in short supply and as he didn’t have the money for a full suite of sails his journeys always took longer than they should and so the shortage of food would become critical. For example at the end of both his second, nonstop, circumnavigation and his final circumnavigation (under taken when he was 70, by the way) he had run out of food and had been on short rations for long periods and had lost a lot of weight. So much so that people were shocked at his appearance.
As well as the food problems, he also had his fair share of foul weather and his descriptions of the storms, during the first of which he spent days doing little more than hanging on and pumping out the yacht’s bilges, and others where the yacht was knocked down are vivid and he gets across the sheer awfulness of a suffering a storm in a small boat very well. I have been in gales, and on occasions storms but mainly on large merchant ships and they were grim enough. On the odd occasion I have been out in rough weather in a yacht, it was never anywhere near as bad as the weather experienced by Powles in the Southern Ocean.
After three circumnavigations, Les Powles continued sailing, and was at sea in a gale on his 80th birthday.
I had never known the boat so wet; charts became soaked and fell apart. With the vibration and shaking it became difficult to boil water for a hot drink. On October 24th it was my 80th birthday and I managed to celebrate with a cup of tea.
This remarkable man still lives on board his beloved Solitaire and his book is a cracking read. Highly recommended.